Top 5 iconic actors who rose to fame in the 1970s

Top 5 iconic actors who rose to fame in the 1970s
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Top 5 iconic actors who rose to fame in the 1970s

The 70s was a huge decade, movie-wise, in this decade a plethora of iconic movies emerged, movies like The Godfather, One flew over a cuckoo nest, Taxi Driver, Jaws and many other. The 70’s were also a big decade for new, talented, and fresh actors who had their big break during this era.

This list sums up Hollywood’s greatest still living actors that rose to fame in the 1970s.

5. John Travolta

Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino in the ABC comedy Welcome Back Kotter, c. 1976.

Travolta’s first California-filmed television role was as a fall victim in Emergency! (S2E2), in September 1972, but his first significant movie role was as Billy Nolan, a bully who was goaded into playing a prank on Sissy Spacek’s character in the horror film Carrie (1976). Around the same time, he landed his star-making role as Vinnie Barbarino in the TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter (1975–1979).

Travolta had a hit single entitled “Let Her In”, peaking at number ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in July 1976. In the next few years, he appeared in two of his most noted screen roles: Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever(1977) and as Danny Zuko in Grease (1978). 

The films were among the most commercially successful pictures of the decade and catapulted Travolta to international stardom.

Saturday Night Fever earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. At age 24, Travolta became one of the youngest performers ever nominated for the Best Actor Oscar. His mother and his sister Ann appeared in minor roles in Saturday Night Fever and his sister Ellen appeared as a waitress in Grease.

4.Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver

De Niro’s first film role came at the age of 20 when he appeared in Brian De Palma’s 1963 film The Wedding Party, but the film was not released until 1969. He then appeared in Roger Corman’s film Bloody Mama (1970).

He gained popular attention with his role as a dying Major League Baseball player in Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) and began his collaboration with Martin Scorsese when he played the small-time criminal Johnny Boy in Mean Streets (1973). De Niro had a pivotal role in the Francis Ford Coppola film The Godfather Part II (1974), playing the young Vito Corleone.

In 1976, De Niro appeared in 1900, Bernardo Bertolucci’s biographical exploration of life in Italy before World War II, seen through the eyes of two Italian childhood friends at the opposite sides of society’s hierarchy. He also starred in The Last Tycoon (1976), directed by Elia Kazan.

3.Dustin Hoffman

Dustin Hoffman 1968

He first drew critical praise for starring in the play Eh? For which he won a Theatre World Award and a Drama Desk Award. This was soon followed by his breakthrough 1967 film role as Benjamin Braddock, the title character, in The Graduate. Since then, Hoffman’s career has largely been focused on cinema, with sporadic returns to television and the stage.

His subsequent notable films include Midnight Cowboy, Little Big Man, Straw Dogs, Papillon, Lenny, Marathon Man, All the President’s Men, Kramer vs. Kramer, Tootsie, Rain Man, Hook, and Wag the Dog.

2.Al Pacino

Al Pacino in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1971).

It was the 1971 film The Panic in Needle Park, in which he played a heroin addict, that brought Pacino to the attention of director Francis Ford Coppola, who cast him as Michael Corleone in the blockbuster Mafia film The Godfather(1972). 

Pacino was teased on the set because of his short stature. Pacino’s performance earned him an Academy Award nomination, and offered a prime example of his early acting style, described by Halliwell’s Film Guide as “intense” and “tightly clenched”.

In 1973, he co-starred in Scarecrow, with Gene Hackman, and won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. That same year, Pacino was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor after starring in Serpico, based on the true story of New York City policeman Frank Serpico, who went undercover to expose the corruption of fellow officers.

In 1974, Pacino reprised his role as Michael Corleone in the sequel The Godfather Part II, which was the first sequel to win the Best Picture Oscar; Pacino, meanwhile, was nominated for his third Oscar.

1. Jack Nicholson

Press photo of Jack Nicholson after being nominated for an Academy Award for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Nicholson starred in Five Easy Pieces alongside Karen Black in 1970 in what became his persona-defining role. Nicholson and Black were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances. within a month after the film’s release that September, the movie became a blockbuster, making Nicholson a leading man and the “new American antihero,” Critics began speculating whether he might become another Marlon Brando or James Dean.

His career and income skyrocketed. He said, “I have much sought after. Your name becomes a brand image like a product. You become Campbell’s soup, with thirty-one different varieties of roles you can play.”In 1974, he starred in Roman Polanski’s noir thriller, Chinatown, and was again nominated for Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Jake Gittes, a private detective.

The film co-starred Faye Dunaway and John Huston and included a cameo role with Polanski. Roger Ebert described Nicholson’s portrayal as sharp-edged, menacing, and aggressive, a character who knew “how to go over the top,” as he did in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It is that edge that kept Chinatown from becoming a typical genre crime film.

One of Nicholson’s greatest successes came in 1975 with his role as Randle P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The movie was an adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel and was directed by Miloš Forman and co-produced by Michael Douglas. Nicholson plays an anti-authoritarian patient at a mental hospital where he becomes an inspiring leader for the other patients. (Playing one of the patients was Danny DeVito in his first significant role.

Nicholson learned afterward that DeVito grew up in the same area of New Jersey and they knew many of the same people. The film swept the Academy Awards with nine nominations and won the top five, including Nicholson’s first for Best Actor.


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John Smith has been with Histecho since 2017, A Senior Editor & Writer for Histecho. his work has been featured in outlets such as Scientific American, The Washington Post, NBC News, and Fox News. John grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York.